The 2016-17 Miami Heat didn’t make the playoffs, but they were one of the most impressive teams in franchise history.
It was after a five-game road trip in early January that head coach Erik Spoelstra knew this Miami Heat team could be something more.
They were 11-30 and returning home to face a strong Houston Rockets team. Miami’s offense erupted. Six players scored more than 14 points, including Goran Dragic and Dion Waiters combining for 38, and the defense held MVP-hopeful James Harden to just 12-of-30 shooting.
Miami won the game 109-103, the first of what would be a 13-game win streak — the longest streak ever by a sub-.500 team.
Six days and two wins later, the Warriors. Waiters. Game winner. Strike a pose.
After beating the Washington Wizards in the final game of the season on Wednesday, the Heat finished the season 41-41, becoming the first team to ever come back from as much as 19 games below .500 to finish with an even record. After starting 11-30, the finished 30-11.
That Wizards win gave Miami a 10-2 record against some of the best teams in the league the Cavaliers, Wizards, Rockets and Warriors.
Unfortunately, the Heat won’t be in the playoffs. Late losses to the Nuggets and Knicks took control out of Miami’s hands, and wins by the Pacers and Bulls on the final night of the regular season means the Heat will be on the outside looking in.
Still, Heat fans have to feel good about the effort and performance from this team.
When everyone was saying tank, they were working to get better.
Players like James Johnson and Dion Waiters resurrected their careers.
Spoelstra made a case for his first Coach of the Year award.
The rest of the NBA — players, coaches and media — took notice of what was happening in South Beach.
It’s a cliche, but it’s true. Heat culture was a real thing this season. What drove this team was the desire to keep playing meaningful basketball together. It’s gutsy win to come back from down 15 to the Cavaliers in the penultimate game of the season extended their season one more game. The 82nd game had meaning — something Heat fans may have taken for granted in recent years.
“None of us are handling it well right now,” Spoelstra said of not making the post-season. “Everybody wants nothing more than to come in tomorrow and start preparing for the playoffs.”
Veteran Udonis Haslem says it’s one of the closest teams he’s been on.
“We’re just enjoying each other’s company, enjoying the opportunity to play together. We just got unbelievable faith in each other and I got amazing amount of respect and love for these guys. This is — even including the Big Three team — this is probably one of the more funner teams that I’ve been around.”
They didn’t want it to end, but all good things eventually do.
The off-season starts now. NBA Draft preparation. Free agency strategizing. Pat Riley and Andy Elisburg will work to improve a team that finished the season on a 60-win pace.
This team will change. How much isn’t clear. But no matter what happens, for an organization with three championships, the 2016-17 Heat will go down as one of the more impressive teams in franchise history.
Now the work begins, all over again, to become something more.